Inauguration Follies and Foibles – The Roosevelt Years


Even important well-planned events can go awry, whether through forces of nature or human nature, and inaugurations are no exception. Those who remember President Obama first inauguration, may remember how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled over the Oath of Office, but there has been a long history of minor gaffes and uncomfortable moments.

Franklin Roosevelt went through four inaugurations, and with that many, it’s not surprising there were some memorable moments. At the 1941 inauguration, Roosevelt used his own two hundred- year-old family bible for the swearing in. The bible was enormous, and a Supreme Court clerk, Charles Elmore Cropley, had been given the task of holding it before and after. The poor man dropped the bible not once but twice, in full view of the crowd. For the remainder of the ceremony clutched it to his chest so it wouldn’t get away again. Mr. Cropley is the man seen facing the camera between the President and the Chief Justice.


Given the size of this bible, Mr. Cropley can be forgiven for loosing his grip on it.


Shown in the picture at the top of the post, Roosevelt’s beloved terrier, Fala, tried to join his master on the way to the Inauguration in ‘41, jumping in the car and taking up his usual spot. Much to the dog’s dismay, he was removed by a security person to make room for the Speaker of the House and a senate leader.


It was Eleanor Roosevelt who found some inaugural details very trying. Never much interested in clothes, she agreed to be photographed for LIFE magazine posing in her various outfits for the inaugural events. You can tell from her expression she in not in her comfort zone. For the inauguration in 1945, Mrs. Roosevelt was not photographed in advance. Instead, LIFE ran a photo of the dressmaker who had made the dresses for all four inaugurations. Mrs. Roosevelt still managed to be subject to indignity because the dressmaker gave LIFE all the details of the first lady’s measurements and how they had changed over the years. No one would want the details of their hip measurements in a national magazine!

And because the 1945 inauguration was during World War II, the traditional post-inaugural luncheon reflected wartime shortages. Guests were served chicken salad, unbuttered rolls and frosting-free cake. Comedian George Jessel, the luncheon’s toastmaster, asked the crowd, “How is it humanly possible to make chicken salad with so much celery and so little chicken?”

Luckily, President Obama and his guests will dine today on a much more expanded menu:

First course:
• Steamed Lobster with New England Clam Chowder Sauce
• Sautéed Spinach
• Sweet Potato Hay

Second course:
• Hickory-Grilled Bison with Red Potato Horseradish Cake and Wild Huckleberry Reduction
• Butternut Squash Purée
• Baby Golden Beets and Green Beans
• Strawberry Preserve and Red Cabbage

Third course:
• Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Aged Cheese and Honey Maple Caramel Sauce
• Artisan Cheeses

• Tierce Finger Lakes Dry Riesling (2010)
• Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée California Champagne
• Bedell Cellars Merlot (2009)

I’m not sure about the bison, but the rest sounds delicious.

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